2011-12 NHL Season Preview: Washington Capitals

Alexander Ovechkin in Bauer Gear
Alexander Ovechkin looks to lead the Caps deep into the playoffs this season

Key Offseason Additions: Joel Ward, Tomas Vokoun, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer

Key Offseason Losses: Matt Bradley, Scott Hannan

Last Season Ranking:1st in East

Offense: The Washington Capitals will continue to depend on three men to carry the offense this season: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Semin. Since the 2008-09 season, those three have lead the Capitals in scoring, in that same order. This year should be no different.

Alex Ovechkin is leaning on a new brand this season, dropping CCM and going with a trusted product in Bauer Hockey. That renewed trust in gear should help him near the 100 point mark, if not top it, for the season. As Ovechkin excels, so does linemate Nicklas Backstrom. Centering Ovi gives Backstrom the opportunity to pile on the assists, and add a few goals here and there as well. Semin, in the last year of his contract, has a lot to prove to this team. He’s been called out by former teammate Matt Bradley for not caring, and this is his season to prove that he’s a devoted team member. If these guys can all get on the right page again, and put forth their top effort, you’re going to see an incredible hockey club.

The Capitals have a lot of depth to go along with their top three scorers, beginning with Brooks Laich, who can be counted on for roughly 50 points per season. After a bit of a scoring slump last season, where he scored fewer than 20 goals for the first time since 2006-07, Laich will look to rebound and break the 20 goal mark once again. Joining Laich to provide depth will be guys like Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, and the newly acquired Jeff Halpern and Troy Brouwer. These guys will all put up the depth points to help Washington continue to dominate the East.

Joel Ward, another off-season free agent signing, will be counted on to maintain his excellent scoring touch when he suits up for the Capitals this fall. Ward, who only managed 29 regular season points last season with the Predators, was virtually unstoppable in their playoff run. In 12 games played, Ward tallied 7 goals and 6 assists for 13 points. This run included two separate five game point streaks. Ward brings a big body to the team, and is also an underrated talent that could help the Caps get over that difficult hump come playoff time.

Finally, keep your eye on Marcus Johansson this season. In his rookie campaign last season, Johansson posted a solid 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points in 69 games played. These numbers certainly aren’t bad considering the guy was fighting for playing time with an already extremely talented team. The way this kid can skate, pass, and shoot, he’s going to get plenty of opportunities playing alongside Washington’s top three.

Defense: Defensively, the Capitals continue to be lead by the offensive minded Mike Green. During an injury plagued season in 2010-11, Green piled up 24 points in 49 games. These numbers were certainly far below his expected output, but providing he’s healthy this season, watch for that output to approach 70 points once again.

Following in Green’s footsteps is the young John Carlson, who helped lead the Caps defense last season. Carlson is a young defender, at only 21 years old, but he’s growing up quick and has the talent to be a top defender in the league. He’ll be joined by another youngster, Karl Alzner, in carrying much of the load defensively for the Caps this season. Jeff Schultz, who has a few years under his belt, will add a bit of stability to the blue line.

Rounding out the defense will be free agent pickup Roman Hamrlik, along with a trade deadline acquisition from last season, Dennis Wideman. Both are very solid defenseman, who add a bit more experience and leadership to a young defense. The leadership they will add could be the key in developing a defense that not only leads the team through the season, but carries the team past the first two rounds of the playoffs as well.

Goaltending: Tomas Vokoun will join the Capitals this season after signing as a free agent over the summer. Vokoun turned down an offer from the Detroit Red Wings, among other teams, to have the shot at being a guaranteed starter out of the gate in Washington. Coming in at 35 years old, Vokoun could be coming right into his prime here as he joins the Caps. His numbers have been good playing for a sub-par team in Florida, so imagine what he will be able to accomplish with a team of all-stars in front of him. Michal Neuvirth will be on back-up duty this season, but should see a fair amount of games to ensure Vokoun stays well rested.

HWB Playoff Prediction: Playoff Bound. As usual the Caps have what it takes to get land a high seed. With a number of key off-season acquisitions, the Capitals management looks to have assembled a team that has the potential to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this season. We’ve seen them implode early in years past, but something tells me this season will be different.

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